Managing Director - Berbay Publishing
Could you give an overview of how your career in publishing began and describe some of the key positions you held prior to setting up your own company, Berbay Publishing?
After completing my Arts degree (majoring in literature and cinema studies), I spent 8 years working for a variety of large publishing houses (both educational and trade publishers) in Australia, Europe and North America. I then moved out of publishing and worked for communication and marketing companies for 8 years. All these experiences gave me a solid foundation in publishing as I pursued my next step.
With a deep appreciation of the arts and literature, it was my life-long ambition dream to create my own publishing house, focussing on children’s books. The enormous scope for creativity in children’s books is the perfect fit for me. The ability to marry my love of the visual arts and literature has been a dream come true.
It was a trip to Europe back in 2009 that led to you launching Berbay Publishing. Could you tell us a bit more about that decision and explain the company's key mission?
That’s true. At the time, I was disappointed by the diversity of children’s books available in Australia. The contrast was highlighted on a family trip to Europe in 2009, where I appreciated the diversity of creative and imaginative books children were reading in places such as France and Finland. Why weren’t Australian children being enriched to this extent? This was the catalyst for me to start Berbay Publishing. I was inspired to create enriching children’s books to help shape the way they see the world.
Thus, Berbay was formed. Our mission is to publish books that inform, delight and challenge children with intelligence, ingenuity and fun. We publish books that allow children to be adventurous visually, emotionally and intellectually and to inspire wonder and curiosity.
Select 5 recent titles from your list which best exemplify Berbay's unique voice in the marketplace.
What are some of the advantages and challenges associated with running a smaller imprint?
The advantages are that we are nimble and can take creative risks. We are in charge of our own creative agenda. Our publishing list is not driven by an accounts department. This has served us well: by focussing on what books we love and believe in our list has grown and received many accolades.
The challenges are always on the financial side. Operating a functional business within the constraints of limited working capital is always challenging and made even more difficult in a worldwide pandemic
When browsing an illustrator's portfolio, what are some of the key things you look out for?
We work with a diverse range of creative people - from ceramic artists to paper-cut artists; from watercolours illustrators to oil painters. I am always looking for fresh, innovative and surprising artists and illustrators and I’m particularly attracted to the art of “hand-made” work. But most importantly, the illustrations or artwork, not matter what medium we use, must be accessible for children.
How important is humour in children's books? What's the funniest story on your current list?
For me, nothing beats the sound of a child laughing. Humour is a great tool to engage a child and their imagination. It allows a child to relax and be creative, be absurd and ridiculous but it also has the power explore serious topics and deep thinking.
Two very funny picture books Berbay has recently published are Norton and the Bear by Gabriel Evans and Sneaky Shadows by SC Manchild and illustrated by Sam Caldwell.
Norton and the Bear is a hilarious story about copying someone else’s behaviour that explores the good and bad of every kid’s least form of admiration.
Sneaky Shadows uniquely showcases the limitless possibilities of shadow-casting in a book of imagination and absurd misdirection.
Who have been some of your most significant and influential mentors?
My husband is my most significant and influential mentor. His business acumen and “go get them” attitude has allowed me to dream big. He allows me to bounce ideas and creative concepts, he challenges me with new ways to see things and, importantly, he makes me laugh daily with his wicked sense of humour.
What are some of your bestselling titles both in Australia and internationally?
Heads and Tails Insects by John Canty has been a standout success. Its strong sales have been boosted by several prestigious awards, including winning best international picture book at the CCBF in Shanghai last year in November (being the first Australian book to ever win this international award) and receiving a Children’s Book Council of Australia Honour award (Australia’s most prestigious children’s literary awards).
We have also licenced this to North America, the UK, France, Germany, Korea and China.
Our other best-selling series is the Chihiro Takeuchi board book series with the Wall Street Journal voting it one of the best board books of 2019.
The past few months have been extremely challenging, what impact has the global pandemic had specifically on Berbay's plans for 2020 and beyond?
The impact of the pandemic has been hard for a small publishing houses who already work on thin margins. Bookshops and libraries closed due to lockdown restrictions and international bookfairs cancelled have been devastating on domestic and international sales.
Our focus is making sure that we have the strongest possible titles ready to share as the industry recovers. We cannot control the market or COVID-19, but we can ensure that the books we produce offer readers something special and different that inspires them to keep returning to our list. Our 2021 list will be our largest list by far, but it’s still as highly-curated as ever, with a focus on satisfying and responding to the natural curiosity that children have
When it comes to international success, what would you say are some of the key ingredients to ensuring widespread appeal?
Original and innovative books always stand out and help with success in a very saturated market. These original and innovative books encompass universal themes such as friendship, family, courage, loss and love.